I’ve been mulling over this piece in the FT for a while trying to figure out why I felt uneasy with it.

It highlights a fundamental issue in business. Who comes first, the employee or the customer?

This is possibly a defining characteristic of business, another way of segmenting the culture and personality of an organisation.

Simply put: do you value customers more because without them you don’t have a business? Or your employees more because without them you can’t serve and attract the best customers?

On one level it’s another classic example of the chicken/egg dilemma though to my mind with one important differential. Instinctively, I believe there is an answer to this question that reflects the inherent priority of each.

A possible solution came to me today: could it be as simple as this?

A business should value it’s employees above all else in order to build an engaged and talented workforce that stays with the business and puts the business needs above all else.

And businesses should engage employees who want to put customers first, so that they attract and retain the best and most profitable customers in the benefits of the employees themselves and the business.

To do this, businesses need to ensure that employees understand the value of customers, the role they each play in delivering outstanding customer service, and the best strategies and tactics for delivering this day to day.

The biggest challenge lies in building an open, collaborative, engaged culture where everyone wants to play their part and be a part of the whole.

Easier said than done. It’s easy to say, a company should care for it’s employees and the employees should care for their customers.

Making that happen is the biggest challenge there is. Especially for well-established companies with engrained cultures.

I’m noticing a lot of business start-ups at the moment and I hope that the people who are founding them and hiring people are taking the opportunity to build the culture “right” from the ground up.

It’s easy to criticise the big, faceless behemoths. But no one thought let alone was talking about employee engagement when they were set up.

Now you can’t move without hitting advice on how to motivate and retain employees.

No excuses now.

Deborah Lewis: PR and engagement expert

Deborah’s 20 year career has been focused on helping businesses with complex messages, often operating in challenging and commoditised sectors. From tissues to chocolate, from software engineering to change management consulting, Deborah’s skill lies in assisting management in identifying the right voice for the business and defining strong and compelling stories which will resonate across audiences.

An entrepreneur, Deborah set up a PR consultancy in 2007 which became one of the largest corporate and business to business independents in the UK, with a reputation for high quality and customer care, and achieving results where other agencies had failed.